Nature Climate Change | Climate Feedback

Climate and society in the Arctic

walrus.jpg

Although the Inuit people of the North American Arctic are generally thought to be vulnerable to climate change, particularly in the wake of record sea ice loss, it can be difficult to quantify all of the risks to their way of life. In a new paper in Climatic Change, a group of researchers led by Gita Laidler of Carleton University assessed the ability of the residents of Igloolik, a coastal community north of the Arctic Circle, to adapt to changing conditions. The team reports that although the hunters have so far adapted to thinning ice and changing seasons, societal changes among the younger generations may leave the community increasingly at risk.


The group used interviews and observations of the community members, which they then compared to instrumental observations of environmental conditions. From their interviews, they report a number of community-wide adaptations undertaken by hunters in search of walrus and seals, including testing ice with harpoons before walking, and taking supplies for several days in case of a stranding.

But financial constraints are hindering the community. Insurance for expensive equipment, such as the snowmobiles the hunters need to use on the increasingly circuitous routes to the hunting grounds, is difficult to obtain. Governmental compensation schemes are reported to be inadequate. And record oil prices in 2008 drained family resources.

In a familiar complaint, the elders report that the adoption of the English language and more Euro-American customs by the younger generations has created a generational divide. This seems to be spurring the loss of the traditional knowledge base in the community. Though in this case, it’s not the loss of a family recipe, but rather the knowledge of how to survive hunting on increasingly unpredictable ice.

The main point the authors make is that while the community has been able to adapt their hunting techniques and diet to recent changes, a complex interplay of climate and socio-economic changes in the near future may have a much different result.

Alicia Newton

Image: An Arctic walrus in a photo taken by Captain Budd Christman of the NOAA Corps, copyright NOAA

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